Middle East experts warned Tuesday a flap over the status of pro-democracy organizations in Egypt could destroy Washington's relationship with the African nation's ruling military, and erode the combat arsenal Washington helped Cairo build.
As tensions continue to simmer between the long time allies, the Obama administration is threatening to shut off its annual $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt. While analysts say it is unclear to know which weapon systems-and other aid-like training-would be withheld, a review of Pentagon records by U.S. News & World Report shows Egypt might miss out on everything from the latest F-16 fighter jets to cargo helicopters, from missile systems to VIP aircraft and bulldozers.
Egypt's military, which has been running the country since Hosni Mubarak's ouster nearly a year ago, raided the offices of 10 non-governmental groups last month that are involved in promoting democracy in the country. The military claims those NGOs have organized anti-government rallies. Caught in the crackdown are nearly 20 Americans, who are set to face trial in Egypt for their work with such organizations.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Egyptian officials over the issue Saturday, warning over a $1 billion in aid Washington annually sends to Cairo could be cut off.
"We will have to closely review these matters as it comes for us to certify whether any of these funds from our government can be made available under these circumstances," Clinton says.
She was referring to stipulations in a U.S. foreign aid appropriations bill that requires the Obama administration to certify that Egypt is taking a list of steps to set up a democratic government.
"At this point, it is clear these conditions are not being met," according to Sarah Trister, manager of congressional affairs for Freedom House, an NGO that says its Egyptian office was raided.
If the flap is not resolved, Clinton's comments show the Obama administration is ready to withhold its certification, meaning Cairo would not get some U.S.-made military systems. Jon Alterman, director of Middle East studies for the Center for Strategic and International Studies said it is unclear which combat systems Cairo has requested might be withheld by Washington.
State Department officials did not respond to a request seeking information about what military transactions might be held up. That department oversees all sales of U.S. combat systems to other nations.
But a review of Defense Security Cooperation Agency records shows over the last decade, Egypt has sought and purchased a long list of American weapon systems. That list includes some impressive hardware: the most advanced model of the F-16 fighter, Chinook and Apache helicopters, a number of anti-armor and anti-ship cruise missiles, military aircraft engines and cargo planes.
The records also reveal Egypt's interest in U.S.-made radars, tactical trucks, advanced radar systems and "kits" to upgrade Abrams tanks. Cairo even purchased one military-grade bulldozer.
Analysts said the U.S. military and defense firmshave long kept Egypt's military personnel in the know about how to keep their American-made platforms in fighting shape.
"Our equipment is pretty sophisticated to work with," Alterman said. "With a lot of nations, there's a sustained relationship on upkeep and logistics, so they can use it when they need to. On aircraft, for example, the U.S. has traditionally been very involved in after-sale work."
The row also threatens the Pentagon's relationship with senior and up-and-coming Egyptian military officials because the annual aid packages have included training activities, another expert said.
"One of reasons why the U.S. was satisfied about the military being in power was it had relationships and influence with the officer corps," said Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Many have gone through training in the United States."